Colonel Charles Osborne Dalton, DSO, KStJ, ED, a D-Day Company Commander of The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, passed away in Toronto on 21 February 1999 at the age of 88.
Born in Toronto, Colonel Dalton enlisted in the Queen’s Own Rifles Cadet Company in 1925 at the age of 15. A year later he joined the 2nd Battalion. He was sent to England in March 1940 as an instructor in the Canadian Infantry Training Unit until rejoining his Regiment in 1943 in the rank of Major to assume command of “B” Company.
Colonel Dalton led “B” Company on D-Day landing on the beaches of Bernieres-sur-Mer in front of a concrete strong point where his company underwent fierce machine gunfire. Almost half of B Company was lost in the initial dash across the beach. He suffered a severe head wound but continued to lead his men knocking out one of the pill boxes himself. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his leadership and bravery. [His brother Colonel H.E. Dalton also commanded a Company on D-Day.]
He was evacuated to a hospital in England and after recovery he returned to the Regiment serving through the Channel Ports campaign. He was made second-in-command of the unit during the Battle of the Rhineland and served as such until end of the war.
On return to Canada, he joined Carling Breweries becoming President of the Company in 1951. He later became Executive Vice President of Canadian Breweries.
He served as Honorary Lieutenant Colonel from 14 December 1968 to 7 May 1970 when he became Honorary Colonel until 10 December 1975 (to be succeeded by his brother H.E. Dalton.)
Not only was Colonel Dalton a courageous soldier and an inspiring leader, he was also an astute businessman, a devout Christian, a loving husband and father, and a dedicated volunteer in several charities.
Colonel Dalton was survived by his wife Helen, two sons Christopher and Ian, and two daughters June and Faith and eleven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Transcript of Interview conducted in 1998 as part of a school project
Charles Dalton joined the Cadet Corps of the Queen’s Own when he was 15. He was a 34-year-old Major when he commanded B Company. A and B Companies made up the first wave which landed at 0812 hours. B Company was on the left, and A Company, commanded by his brother Elliot Dalton, was on the right. Major Dalton was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O.) for his leadership in the war and later served as Honorary Colonel of the QOR.
What happened when the ramp dropped when you landed? What were your feelings at this time?
When I said “Follow me!” and dashed down the ramp into 12 feet of water, I disappeared. I had an 85-pound pack on my back with ammunition and food and so on plus I had a life preserver on, so we all sank just like stones. So when people say we ran up the beach, I say “Run? I was barely crawling up the beach!” And we were full of water because the impregnated battle dress we were wearing at the time kept the water from running out.
The man next to me was hit seven times down his arm. I didn’t get touched. We scrambled up the beach and when I looked back, I was horrified to see that there was nobody following me. Now, one of the difficult things about leading is that you never can look back, because if you look back, the people behind you then get the feeling that you’re stopping and that the smart thing to do is get down out of the line of fire. When I looked back I thought they had gone to ground, but in fact they were lying at the water’s edge and Germans were firing at them as they lay wounded.
So in 10 minutes, of the 120 men I had with me, we were all either killed or wounded.
When you first got onto the beach, what were your feelings and what did you do?
Of course you’re always frightened, no question about that, but all I could think of was that our Medical Officer had said “Now look, 50% of you are going to be casualties. If you’re hit, one of two things will happen. If you’re dead, your problems will be over. If you’re wounded, you’re going to get better. So just lie there and keep quiet and wait for the medical people to catch up with us, but nobody else will stop to help you, because if they do the whole thing will stop.”
So I kept thinking, what I’m really worrying about is whether I’m going to survive, but it looks as if you don’t have much choice in this whole thing. So the important thing is that I can give the leadership that they’re expecting from me because I have their lives in my hands. If I make the wrong decision, we’ll all wind up being killed or wounded, and if I don’t make any decision, we’ll have the worst chaos of all. So I’d better just get on with the idea of doing the best job I can and forgetting about whether I’m going to be sacrificed as we land on the beach.
What did you do when you got close to the enemy? Did you feel a sense of relief or accomplishment when you got near?
The pillbox I was assigned to attack was supposed to have been taken out by the Engineers and the Tank Corps, but that didn’t happen because it was too rough and the tanks tended to sink right off the landing craft. So it wasn’t until later, after I had been hit, that I recognized that I wasn’t going to be able to get in this pillbox because it had a steel door and a 36 grenade wasn’t about to blow the door in. So I finally decided that if I used my Sten gun at the two machine guns that were firing, but they had a shield over their guns so that nobody could fire in. So I had a ladder that we put up the wall, and then I fired at the shield with the hope that the bullets would ricochet off them and fly around inside their pillbox. And actually they did, so the machine guns stopped firing, but we were still no closer to getting in.
Meanwhile, one of the German officers got his 9mm revolver out and fired at me and it drilled through my helmet and down the ladder I slid. One of the stretcher bearers was there and said to me, “Sir I thought you were smarter than that, to stick your head over the top of that wall”. I said, “I wasn’t trying to be smart, I was just trying to find some way to stop these people from firing, and at least I’ve accomplished that much.” So when the tanks came up, they did just that.
What did you do you after the battle?
It was about 8:30 in the morning, I guess, and I was walking along the beach trying to catch up with the rest of the company. A medical officer saw the bandage on my head and he took the dressing off and put another bigger one on. He said, “You will be back in England by tonight,” but I wasn’t back in England that night, I was lying on stretcher on the beach until 3 o’clock in the morning. People came along and put cigarettes in my mouth and gave me some rum, but after a while you realized you were terribly uncomfortable with all that sand inside your clothes.
So on the third day we were put on a tank transporter which was large landing craft, and we were stacked up three high in stretcher. By that time, cigarettes were getting pretty scarce, but here’s the kind of comradeship we had. I would light a cigarette and take two puffs and then pass it to the man above me who took two puffs. And if nobody cheated it would go all the way up to the top rack and back down and I would get the last puff. Well, most people would say “Here I am, and I don’t even know if I’m going to be alive by morning, so I’m going to take a really good drag on it,” but nobody did. And that’s what people missed when they got home, and that’s why a lot of them signed up to go to Korea.